Rio Grande Valley eighth grade students were the focus of attention at the second day of the weeklong Hispanic Engineering Science and Technology Week Sept. 26 at The University of Texas-Pan American.
Student Leadership Day brought the students, all UTPA and Region I GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness of Undergraduate Programs) participants, to the campus to learn about the importance of graduating from high school and pursuing higher education as well as the opportunities available to them in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics - a primary goal of HESTEC, a national leadership program now in its fifth year.
"It is important that you understand that this college belongs to you," Cárdenas told the students. "We expect you to be leaders. We expect you to be thinkers, problem solvers, and most importantly, we want you to believe that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that you cannot do if you set your mind to it. But you must have the desire to learn."
Cárdenas talked about the rapid changes occurring in the world and the need for leaders in wake of events like Hurricane Katrina for example.
"You are very important to this country," she said. "Our country is competing all over the world and you are the ones who will develop the knowledge, the skills and the courage to keep our country strong."
Barrera, a Brownsville native, told the students to "enjoy your day" but "don't forget why you are here." "You are here because you are the next great leaders of America ... of the Rio Grande Valley... of UTPA," she said.
Barrera said when she was their age she became involved in science and history fairs and projects with groups of friends who provided support and encouragement to her. In closing, she gave them some final words of advice.
"Think ahead. Try to figure out what you want to do. You are no longer kids. There is a huge responsibility that you have. That responsibility is to make a difference and change our world," she said.
Before departing the UTPA Fieldhouse to attend one of four breakout sessions featuring panels of recent graduates as well as experienced professionals in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, the students heard an encouraging keynote talk from Albert M. Gaydos, systems vice president of Operations at Raytheon Intelligence and Information.
Raytheon Company, which employs 80,000 people worldwide, is an industry leader in defense and government electronics, space, information technology, technical services, and business aviation and special mission aircraft.
Starting out with a humorous account of thinking about what he could find that he had in common with a 14 year old today, Gaydos asked the crowd what they thought of when they heard the phrase "black eyed peas."
"To me, this is food. To you it is a band," he said noting other differences in today's world compared to when he grew up. "What I do have in common is that I had a lot of challenges growing up and I know you have a lot of challenges facing you."
"Today companies want diversity. They want people who speak multiple languages and who are familiar with multiple cultures. You are going to be that much more valuable. Embrace your culture," he said, pointing out that over the past six years Raytheon has hired 29 UTPA graduates who are all still on the job.
While his parents did not know how to support his goal to go to college, Gaydos said today's students have a lot more resources they can use to learn about colleges and careers such as the Internet, guidance counselors, events like HESTEC and companies like Raytheon that want to help students be successful.
"You have to have a goal in life and also work and study hard and don't drop out," he said, citing statistics that indicate Latinos have the highest dropout rates and the lowest rate of college enrollment. "You and your generation have to change that to take advantage of all the opportunities our country has to offer."
He ended his words of advice with a quote from former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt, who said, "The best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work that is worth doing."
"Take a chance. Believe in yourself. Allow no one or anything to deter you from that course," he said. As she traveled to the next venue, Jenisa Myers, a student at Oliveira Middle School in Brownsville who wants to be a veterinarian, said she found the day fun and inspiring so far.
"He (Gaydos) inspired me to be more creative," she said. Crystal Luna, who attends Mary Hoge Middle School in Weslaco, said she was honored to be at HESTEC and found Gaydos' talk interesting.
"I am thinking about working with computers," said Luna, who thought it was "cool" to hear about the 29 UTPA graduates now working at Raytheon.
In a session for students in the Student Union Auditorium, 250 of the day's middle school visitors met a panel of four men with technology-related jobs, and heard advice from them on establishing and achieving education and career goals. Julio Brenes, operations manager, Airborne Processors at Raytheon Company; Sergio Contreras, AT&T regional manager, Rio Grande Valley; Michael Flores, director of Services and Technology, Direct Energy; and 2005 UTPA graduate Robert Carreon, equipment engineer at Texas Instruments, described their backgrounds, jobs and fields and then responded to a wide range of questions from students, who were awarded HESTEC T-shirts to excited cheers for asking a question during the session.
Brenes said his parents had emigrated from Cuba to seek a better life and he spoke no English until he was six years old. He said he had no doubt the students in the room today could come to the University and succeed.
In a response to a question on what drove him to success, Carreon, raised with two siblings by a single mother, said, "To make my mother proud." While at UTPA, Carreon said he gave a lot of his personal time to serve as president of SHPE and was a member of a robotics team that designed and built a robot, which placed fifth out of 25 teams in a regional competition.
Contreras, who left family and friends and the South Texas warm weather to attend college in Iowa, challenged students who wanted to achieve their dreams to participate in the Texas Scholar program, which requires students beginning in eighth grade to graduate under a program of high academic standards and develop a career plan for high school and beyond.
"If you want to succeed in science, technology, engineering and math, now is the time to get into the Texas Scholar program. Go to your counselor or teachers and ask about it," he said.
In response to a question about their salaries, all of the panelists said their jobs included many benefits beyond pay, including travel opportunities and incentives such as a company vehicle or chances to attend special functions such as HESTEC to fulfill their company's mission.
Telling the students that their future depends on the choices they make now, Flores, the first to graduate from college in his family, shared his simple formula for success.
"Knowledge plus skills multiplied by effort and activities equal success," he said, noting by knowledge he meant obtaining higher education. Answering a question about the sacrifices he had to make to obtain his education, Flores said he would not use the word sacrifice.
"I'd use the word investment. I chose to invest time to get a higher education which results in a higher paying job and more options in the future," he said.
Following the session Ezequiel Rosa, an eighth grade student at Jo Nelson Middle School in Santa Rosa, said he learned a lot from the session.
"I learned the things you need to do to get into college and the sacrifices you have to make," said Rosa, who is considering an engineering career.
Eddie Velasquez, a student at Brown Middle School in McAllen, thought the panelists gave good advice.
"It made me think about a career," said Velasquez, who may switch his previous career choice of medicine to engineering because it sounds more creative.
"This is my third visit to HESTEC and it is always very exciting to talk to young students and faculty and see the brave young faces with so much ahead of them and a bright future. It's good to sit here and help promote how important it is that you guys stay in school, work very hard, and chase your dreams," Pardo said.
The New York native told students that he graduated with a degree in industrial design from the Center for Creative Studios in Detroit, Mich. and upon graduating was immediately hired by Ford Motor Company to work with its design team in Dearborn, Mich. Pardo has called the company home for 20 years.
An accomplished artist, sculptor, clothing, and furniture designer, Pardo showed students several video presentations of projects that he worked on over the past year including the clay model creation of the Ford GT and his artwork that hangs on the walls of galleries and shows worldwide.
Prior to his luncheon keynote, Pardo also participated in breakout sessions for students and had the chance to impart his wisdom and the life lessons he has learned along the way.
"What I recommend that you do is find out what you like to do ... Go with what you feel and go do what you like and figure out how to make money out of it because it is a lot easier to get up in the morning to go do something you like," Pardo said. "Find out what your interests are and pursue them and build your future around it. That is what I did and I get paid to do what I like to do."
Also participating in the session along with Pardo was Reynaldo Casas, manager of Educational Services for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and Joaquin Martinez of Verizon, who works in the Technical Support Services - Transport division of the company.
Casas, who lives in Washington, D.C. and works for Hispanic congressional members, is responsible for providing outreach to Latino students and parents in preparing them for college, and is also responsible for the national scholarship program for students exhibiting financial need and consistent active participation in public service-oriented activities.
A graduate from The University of Texas at Arlington with a bachelor's in public policy, Casas told students to take advantage of the opportunities provided by UTPA and HESTEC. "Right now one of every 10 Latinos has a bachelor's degree so that means only one of you will get a college degree. If that is what is true with the statistic, then that is very disheartening and sad," Casas said. "It should be your responsibility for every row of chairs to be filled with undergraduate degrees. Every one of you on this row should have a college degree and there is nothing at all that should stop you from that."
For Fernanda Contreras and Valeria Robledo, both students at Liberty Middle School in Los Fresnos, attending HESTEC Student Leadership Day for the first time was very inspiring.
Contreras said listening to Pardo was very encouraging, and his presentation really motivated her to pursue a career in the field of engineering.
"I was already thinking of going to college and he (Pardo) inspired me even more to go," Contreras said.
Robledo, who wants to go into the math field, said she liked the breakout sessions where she learned about numerous opportunities available for students at all grade levels.
Another breakout session featured David Aguilar, director of Science Information and Public Programming at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; and Art Rosales, director of program services at Boeing Commercial and Civil Programs of Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems. Both Aguilar and Rosales shared stories of how they reached success and encouraged the students to strive to be successful. Aguilar emphasized to students to prepare for the future, and opportunities will come their way.
"Be curious about everything and never ever be afraid to fail because when you fail, you learn from it," Aguilar said.
Rosales told students to not be afraid of the unknown and to take chances that will lead them on a journey to their future.
"As you go on your journey, seek advice from your teachers, your parents, your friends and other people. Go on and take a chance," Rosales said.
Bianca Leal, a student at Berta Cabaza Middle School in San Benito, thought Student Leadership Day was neat and glad she had the chance to attend.
"I have never been to anything like this before. I think that UTPA is a great college and I might come here for engineering," Leal said.